Head Off The Money

I was thinking the other day about how to limit the influence of campaign contributions by special interests on the legislative process. Campaign finance reform is a laudable goal, but what real chance has it of passing in a significant incarnation when politicians rely upon those funds to run their campaigns? If real finance reform is to all intents off the table how to mitigate the influence of the special interests?

What would happen if there were regulations in the House and Senate that prohibited legislators from sitting on committees which regulate industries that are major contributors to those same legislators? Get money from banks and Wall Street? You can’t sit on Financial Services. Get money from defence contractors? You don’t get a place in Armed Services. Get major money from oil & gas companies? You don’t get a seat in Energy & Natural Resources.

What would the effect of such a regulation be? It would not curtail lobbyists using the deep pockets of their employers to sway the votes of legislators on the floor. Thus there would still be the possibility of corporate contributions making their way into legislators war chests, but the power of those contributors to control the direction of legislation would be minimized. Corporate contributors would no longer be as able to guide the debate in committee and control so directly the shaping of bills before they came to the floor. Of course, it might just change the way that money got to legislators. Corporations might make all their contributions to the RNC and DNC who would then dole out funds based on whether members toe-ed the party line.

It’s hard to say how exactly it might shake out, certainly lobbyists and wealthy special interests would try to find means to reassert their control of the committees. But it might be worth giving it a try. As a House and Senate regulation, rather than a law, it might be simpler to implement. And if it turned out to do nothing, much easier to repeal.

It would also show the American people that, for a change, Congress was actually trying to become an institution which had the welfare of the greater population as its first concern, rather than the privileges  of a wealthy few.

Just a thought.

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